Surfactants, do they work for hot summers and water restrictions?

kerig01June 10, 2013

Hot weather is on the horizon and here in Austin we are on twice a week water restrictions. My grass looks fine as we've been getting a little bit of rain and the temperatures haven't gotten over 100 yet. However, it looks like the weather's going to start getting hot and I'm afraid watering twice a week isn't going to be not enough.

A local lawn company is promoting a surfactant called Lunar... http://www.numeratortech.com/lunar.html

Has anyone used this product or one similar? I'm curious to hear if it would help any in addition to regular watering fertilizing and mowing during the hot summer with the limited water supply. Thanks!

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gsweater

Johnson's & Johnson's Baby Shampoo, White Rain Shampoo, Dawn (non-anti bacterial) and a myriad of others accomplish the same at a mere fraction of the price. Look up shampoo in the forum search bar and you'll see plenty of discussion. I've used J&J for well over a decade.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2013 at 9:53PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Yes the surfactants have worked to help hold moisture deeper in the soil. And yes any generic, clear shampoo works as well as the expensive stuff. This has been demonstrated over and over on other forums. This forum has more skeptics than experimenters. The application rate is anywhere between 3 and 50 ounces per 1,000 square feet. I've had excellent, long term success with 3 ounces applied two times, two weeks apart. One of the gurus on another forum used 50 ounces per 1,000 every week to see if there was an upper limit to the amount that was beneficial. He never found a limit. Start with 3.

San Antonio has had once per week restrictions for about 10 years. I've made it through every year so far. I have some shade and do not have a sprinkler system. I use hoses and oscillating sprinklers on a programmable hose timer (the Orbit, about $35 on Amazon). During the hottest parts of the worst drought, I have had to apply as much as 1 full inch per week. Normally I apply 3/8 inch per week.

If you have St Augustine grass, the taller the grass the better it makes it through the heat and dry weather. I have another lawn in George West that has not been completely watered yet this year. I've watered about 1,000 square feet of a 10,000 square foot lawn. We've been lucky with the rain but not that lucky. Oh and my grass is anywhere from 12 inches to 32 inches tall. So that is the basis of my statement that tall St Aug will withstand the heat and dry weather better. You may have neighbors or a spouse that will not allow super tall grass, but I'm just saying, mow high and maybe only mow ever other week to keep it as tall as possible for as long as possible.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2013 at 1:29AM
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ivycide(8)

How do you cut grass a foot off the ground? Most mowers max out around 3 inches.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2013 at 12:10PM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

Once a week watering is all you really need.

Get tuna cans out and find out how long it takes to fill them up. One inch of water is 600 gallons per 1000 sqft. The slower the better to ensure that the water doesn't run off. Oscillating sprinkler work the best for the ground that is slow to absorb.

Don't fertilize too much or too heavily during the summer as it will increase the demand for water. You didn't say which grass so...

    Bookmark   June 11, 2013 at 12:11PM
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kerig01

Yep - sorry... Bermuda 419. I'm mowing pretty short, around an 1". I'm actually leveling the yard with sand this weekend so I can try and mow a little shorter without having the occasional dips.

DCHall - good suggestion but I'm pretty sure I'd get run out of town with 1 foot tall grass. Plus I'm going for the golf fairway look with my 6000sqft of grass. I have some areas that look dryer than others so I'll give the johnson and johnson baby shampoo a whirl on those areas to see if it helps. It definitely feels harder and more compact in those spots. I can't wait to see my wife's face when I borrow the kids shampoo to put on the yard!

Finally - right now I put out roughly half an inch of water twice a week for a total of 1". I'm just nervous when we go 100+ for extended periods soon that it won't be enough.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2013 at 12:34PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

LOL, yeah mowers can't mow at 1 foot. I don't mow at all. I live alone on a acre in an area where they just want the weeds knocked down. Nobody is hassling me about the tall grass. At least it is grass and not weeds.

If you do not already have the Bermuda Bible, search for that and memorize it. Texas-Weed is the author. He has been in the sod farming business for many years. It is written for the average homeowner.

With bermuda you really are watering too much. You don't have to coddle bermuda.

Have you looked at the forum threads about leveling? If not they are a MUST READ. They will save you a lot of grief and frustration. There are many ways to do it wrong and a few ways to do it right.

Shampoo will fix you up. Spray the entire lawn not just the dry/hard spots. Spray right before you irrigate and then give it a full inch. Then repeat in 2 weeks. After the second time you should notice that the soil becomes soft when it rains or you irrigate, and it will become hard again before you water the next time. This is normal. Abnormal is hard all the time or mushy all the time. If you find that you get runoff when you are watering the lawn, the shampoo should help. If that is still not enough and you get runoff before you get a full inch out, then you might need to change your sprinkler heads to a low flow type. Or if you are using a hose, change to an oscillator type sprinkler.

Your mowing is correct for bermuda. Tiff can be mowed at the lowest setting. When you let bermuda grow up too high, it gets thin. It is most dense when you mow it low. The density, along with infrequent watering, helps keep weeds out.

If you are interested in having the perfect lawn, you might consider getting the $20 soil test from Logan Labs in Ohio. Their test gives you much more information than the extension service test can give you for $100. From that test you will get suggestions for adjusting the micro nutrients in your soil. You do have to let them know that you live on the limestone dome that is Texas. When they suggest things to counter your soil pH of 8.0, well, there's nothing you can do. You would have to dissolve 800 feet of limestone before you get to something more neutral.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2013 at 1:44PM
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Rod196

Hi Dchall, have you had experience witth those that swear by the beer, coke, ammonia, dish soap, and ....I forgot the other ingrdient...anyway, a concoction so to speak. I suspect the main benefit comes from the surfactant of the dish soap? But they may be on to something...beer and coke have a syrupy quality lie molasses and do contain sugars / carbs. Oh....mouthwash, that's the other ingredient.Have you tried this one?

How long might one expect to wait before seeing some good results with the shampoo method? And the 2 times, two weeks apart....is that regimine recommended once or twice per season? Many thanks, Rod

    Bookmark   June 11, 2013 at 10:17PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Absolutely! That was Jerry Baker, America's Master Gardener, from PBS. He was hilarious back in the 90s...or so us lawn snobs thought. Now that we know more about the biology of the soil, he might have been the only guy around who had a handle on the garden.

Soap is the surfactant you mention. That really does help the soil by allowing water to penetrate much deeper into the soil. When it does that, the temperature and moisture level of the soil remains much more constant for a much longer period. That creates perfect conditions for growing the beneficial fungi that a lawn needs.

Beer and sugared soda provide carbohydrates and enzymes needed by the soil microbes.

Ammonia is a readily available source of nitrogen for the plants.

Mouthwash was not a good fit. The antiseptic quality tends to kill the soil biology. Now at the dilutions he uses it might not have had much of any effect at all. I would not use it today knowing what we know about soil biology.

Another ingredient was tobacco. On that he really was a little off. The form of tobacco he used, and the way he used it, was fairly dangerous.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2013 at 11:16PM
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Rod196

Very neat, thanks. The ingredients do sound plausible too, even using common sense and knowing a little something about chemistry / biology.

Do you remember how many treatments of this elixir per season Mr. Baker recommended and at what intervals? Also, how many times do you recommend the baby shampoo? Thanks, Rod

    Bookmark   June 12, 2013 at 9:54PM
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rager_w

I'm simply not convinced that baby shampoo can do the same. Let's look at the science:
http://gsr.lib.msu.edu/article/zontek-understanding-7-20-12.pdf

    Bookmark   June 13, 2013 at 7:04PM
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Rod196

Rager, it would be interesting to see side by side comaprisons on the same sod plot, soil type, same irrigation, sun, et. al. comparing shampoo, dish soap, tide liquid laundry, and commercially available surfactants and wetting agents. This would be a cool experiment that would yield scientific results.

Interestingly, as has been covered in past posts, comparing golf courses to home yards is not comparing apples to apples.....to many different variables, namely being the sand based soils that golf courses must use to avoid high traffic compaction. These soils are good for that, but do not hold moisture readily, thus their problems with dry patches.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2013 at 9:34AM
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Rod196

Rager, it would be interesting to see side by side comaprisons on the same sod plot, soil type, same irrigation, sun, et. al. comparing shampoo, dish soap, tide liquid laundry, and commercially available surfactants and wetting agents. This would be a cool experiment that would yield scientific results.

Interestingly, as has been covered in past posts, comparing golf courses to home yards is not comparing apples to apples.....to many different variables, namely being the sand based soils that golf courses must use to avoid high traffic compaction. These soils are good for that, but do not hold moisture readily, thus their problems with dry patches.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2013 at 9:37AM
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kerig01

I'm pretty curious on this as well... So I went ahead and covered the back yard in Johnson and Johnson baby shampoo. I'll probably do it again in 2 weeks. I'm going to grab a bag of professional surfactant up at Ewings this weekend and do the front yard with the "professional" stuff. This isn't a perfect test but soil and conditions are pretty similar from front to back.

This might be complicated with sand leveling going on today but we'll see if I can tell a difference. I do get some unevening of dark green vs. light green all though I think that is due more to the dips in the yard and mower cutting at different heights b/c of the dips. I'll update this post and let you know if I can tell any difference in the cheap stuff vs. expensive stuff.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2013 at 10:18AM
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iriasj2009

Taking 2 jars/container/etc full of soil and compacting it as much as possible and pour water in one and water+shampoo on the other and see which one absorbs it faster MIGHT be a good experiment ill try.

The way i see it is like this:

core aeration = instant results
suffacants = needs time

    Bookmark   June 14, 2013 at 11:30AM
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ericsodt

@iriasj2009, any results?

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 2:41PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

iriasj's test wouldn't tell much because this is a biological process. The purpose of the surfactant is to get water deeper into the soil. Once that happens once, the soil temperature and humidity levels out in a broader layer of soil. The beneficial fungi that normally soften the soil begin to repopulate and send out their hyphae. Getting the soil moist down deep is the reason for the soap. Then letting Mother Nature do Her job is what softens the soil. That won't happen in a jar. I would like to know what kerig01 learned.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 10:47PM
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lazy_gardens

kerig01 -

right now I put out roughly half an inch of water twice a week for a total of 1". One inch of water once a week might work better ... the water would penetrate deeper.

I looked at the MSDS for Lunar, and it's using a non-ionic non-sudsing surfactant in a proprietary mix. It breaks up the surface tension and water soaks in faster where it is not subject to evaporation.

Theirs may be a bit longer lasting, but you can get the same effect with any non-ionic surfactant ... AKA shampoo or dish detergent. Any non-oily, non-conditioning brand will work for you. The baby shampoo method is worth a try.

If you have an automatic system, set it for several shorter periods that add up to the required quantity, with the start times so it can run through the cycle easily. I do 45 minutes every 10 days, and to prevent runoff it's in 3 sessions of 15 minutes each. By the time the cycle gets back to station 1, the previous dose of water has soaked in.

Do the tuna can thing!

Link is to how I worked out my schedule for watering my Buffalo grass - links in the article are to the "tuna can" method and a Phoenix lawn watering guide. There is probably a similar guide for your area.

Here is a link that might be useful: Watering calculations

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 9:07AM
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